The muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), the only species in genus Ondatra and tribe Ondatrini, is a medium-sized semiaquatic rodent native to North America and an introduced species in parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. The muskrat is found in wetlands over a wide range of climates and habitats. It has important effects on the ecology of wetlands,[2] and is a resource of food and fur for humans.

The muskrat is the largest species in the subfamily Arvicolinae, which includes 142 other species of rodents, mostly voles and lemmings. Muskrats are referred to as "rats" in a general sense because they are medium-sized rodents with an adaptable lifestyle and an omnivorous diet. They are not, however, members of the genus Rattus.

Muskrat Foraging
A muskrat near a spring at Onondaga Cave State Park in Missouri
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Cricetidae
Subfamily: Arvicolinae
Tribe: Ondatrini
Gray, 1825
Genus: Ondatra
Link, 1795
O. zibethicus
Binomial name
Ondatra zibethicus
(Linnaeus, 1766)
Verbreitungsgebiet Bisamratten
Muskrat ranges:      Native     introduced     introduced range in South America not shown

Castor zibethicus Linnaeus, 1766


The muskrat's name probably comes from a word of Algonquian (possibly Powhatan[3]) origin, muscascus (literally "it is red", so called for its colorings), or from the Abenaki native word mòskwas, as seen in the archaic English name for the animal, musquash. Because of the association with the "musky" odor, which the muskrat uses to mark its territory, and its flattened tail, the name became altered to musk-beaver;[4] later it became "muskrat" due to its resemblance to rats.[5][6][7]

Similarly, its specific name zibethicus means "musky", being the adjective of zibethus "civet musk; civet".[8][9] The genus name comes from the Huron word for the animal, ondathra,[10] and entered New Latin as Ondatra via French.[11]


An adult muskrat is about 40–70 cm (16–28 in) long, half of that is the tail, and weighs from 0.6–2 kg (1.3–4.4 lb).[12] That is about four times the weight of the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), though an adult muskrat is only slightly longer, and are almost certainly the largest and heaviest members of the diverse family Cricetidae, which includes all voles, lemmings, and most mice native to the Americas. Muskrats are much smaller than beavers (Castor canadensis), with which they often share their habitat.[5][6]

Ondatra zibethica 02 MWNH 873
A muskrat skull

Muskrats are covered with short, thick fur, which is medium to dark brown or black in color, with the belly a bit lighter (countershaded); as the age increases, it turns a partly gray in color. The fur has two layers, which help protect them from the cold water. They have long tails covered with scales rather than hair, and to aid them in swimming, are slightly flattened vertically,[13] which is a shape that is unique to them.[14] When they walk on land, their tails drag on the ground, which makes their tracks easy to recognize.[5][6]

Muskrats spend most of their time in the water and are well suited for their semiaquatic life. They can swim under water for 12 to 17 minutes. Their bodies, like those of seals and whales, are less sensitive to the buildup of carbon dioxide than those of most other mammals. They can close off their ears to keep the water out. Their hind feet are semiwebbed, although in swimming, their tails are their main means of propulsion.[15]

Distribution and ecology

Muskrat eating plant
A muskrat eating a plant, showing the long claws used for digging burrows

Muskrats are found over most of Canada and the United States and a small part of northern Mexico. They were introduced to Europe in the beginning of the 20th century and have become an invasive species in northwestern Europe. They mostly inhabit wetlands, areas in or near saline and freshwater wetlands, rivers, lakes, or ponds. They are not found in Florida, where the round-tailed muskrat, or Florida water rat (Neofiber alleni), fills their ecological niche.[5]

Their populations naturally cycle; in areas where they become abundant, they are capable of removing much of the vegetation in wetlands.[16] They are thought to play a major role in determining the vegetation of prairie wetlands in particular.[17] They also selectively remove preferred plant species, thereby changing the abundance of plant species in many kinds of wetlands.[2] Species commonly eaten include cattail and yellow water lily. Alligators are thought to be an important natural predator, and the absence of muskrats from Florida may in part be the result of alligator predation.[18]

While much wetland habitat has been eliminated due to human activity, new muskrat habitat has been created by the construction of canals or irrigation channels, and the muskrat remains common and widespread. They are able to live alongside streams which contain the sulfurous water that drains away from coal mines. Fish and frogs perish in such streams, yet muskrats may thrive and occupy the wetlands. Muskrats also benefit from human persecution of some of their predators.[6]

The muskrat is classed as a "prohibited new organism" under New Zealand's Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, preventing it from being imported into the country.[19]

Trematode Metorchis conjunctus can also infect muskrats.[20]


Muskrat lodge
A muskrat push-up

Muskrats normally live in groups consisting of a male and female pair and their young. During the spring, they often fight with other muskrats over territory and potential mates. Many are injured or killed in these fights. Muskrat families build nests to protect themselves and their young from cold and predators. In streams, ponds, or lakes, muskrats burrow into the bank with an underwater entrance. These entrances are 6–8 in (15–20 cm) wide. In marshes, push-ups are constructed from vegetation and mud. These push-ups are up to 3 ft (91 cm) in height. In snowy areas, they keep the openings to their push-ups closed by plugging them with vegetation, which they replace every day. Some muskrat push-ups are swept away in spring floods and have to be replaced each year. Muskrats also build feeding platforms in wetlands. They help maintain open areas in marshes, which helps to provide habitat for aquatic birds.[6][21]

Muskrats are most active at night or near dawn and dusk. They feed on cattail and other aquatic vegetation. They do not store food for the winter, but sometimes eat the insides of their push-ups. While they may appear to steal food beavers have stored, more seemingly cooperative partnerships with beavers exist, as featured in the BBC David Attenborough wildlife documentary The Life of Mammals.[22][23] Plant materials compose about 95% of their diets, but they also eat small animals, such as freshwater mussels, frogs, crayfish, fish, and small turtles.[5][6] Muskrats follow trails they make in swamps and ponds. When the water freezes, they continue to follow their trails under the ice.

Muskrat swimming Ottawa
Muskrat swimming, Rideau River, Ottawa

Muskrats provide an important food resource for many other animals, including mink, foxes, coyotes, wolves, lynx, bobcats, bears, eagles, snakes, alligators, and large owls and hawks. Otters, snapping turtles, and large fish such as pike prey on baby muskrats. Caribou and elk sometimes feed on the vegetation which makes up muskrat push-ups during the winter when other food is scarce for them.[24] In their introduced range in the former Soviet Union, the muskrat's greatest predator is the golden jackal. They can be completely eradicated in shallow water bodies, and during the winter of 1948–49 in the Amu Darya (river in central Asia), muskrats constituted 12.3% of jackal faeces contents, and 71% of muskrat houses were destroyed by jackals, 16% of which froze and became unsuitable for muskrat occupation. Jackals also harm the muskrat industry by eating muskrats caught in traps or taking skins left out to dry.[25]

Muskrats, like most rodents, are prolific breeders. Females can have two or three litters a year of six to eight young each. The babies are born small and hairless, and weigh only about 22 g (0.78 oz). In southern environments, young muskrats mature in six months, while in colder northern environments, it takes about a year. Muskrat populations appear to go through a regular pattern of rise and dramatic decline spread over a six- to 10-year period. Some other rodents, including famously the muskrat's close relatives the lemmings, go through the same type of population changes.

In human history

Native Americans have long considered the muskrat to be a very important animal. Some predict winter snowfall levels by observing the size and timing of muskrat lodge construction.[26]

In several Native American creation myths, the muskrat dives to the bottom of the primordial sea to bring up the mud from which the earth is created, after other animals have failed in the task.[27]

Muskrats have sometimes been a food resource for North Americans.[28] In the southeastern portion of Michigan, a longstanding dispensation allows Catholics to consume muskrat as their Friday penance, on Ash Wednesday, and on Lenten Fridays (when the eating of flesh, except for fish, is prohibited); this tradition dates back to at least the early 19th century.[29]

Muskrat fur is warm, becoming prime at the beginning of December in northern North America. In the early 20th century, the trapping of the animal for its fur became an important industry there. During that era, the fur was specially trimmed and dyed to be sold widely in the US as "Hudson seal" fur.[30] Muskrats were introduced at that time to Europe as a fur resource, and spread throughout northern Europe and Asia.

In some European countries, such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, the muskrat is considered an invasive pest, as its burrowing damages the dikes and levees on which these low-lying countries depend for protection from flooding. In those countries, it is trapped, poisoned, and hunted to attempt to keep the population down. Muskrats also eat corn and other farm and garden crops growing near water bodies.[6]

Royal Canadian Mounted Police winter hats are made from muskrat fur.[31]

Muskrat (musquash) fur backs, jacket

Muskrat fur coat

Muskrat trap

Muskrat trap in the Netherlands


  1. ^ Cassola, F. (2016). "Ondatra zibethicus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2016: e.T15324A22344525. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T15324A22344525.en. Retrieved 2 June 2018.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b Keddy, P.A. (2010). Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation. (2nd edition) Cambridge, UK:Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ "Muskrat". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  4. ^ Hearne, Samuel. (1745–1792). A Journey to the Northern Ocean: The Adventures of Samuel Hearne. Surrey, BC: TouchWood Editions.
  5. ^ a b c d e Caras, R. (1967). North American Mammals. New York: Galahad Books. ISBN 0-88365-072-X
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Nowak, R. & Paradiso, J. (1983). Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-2525-3
  7. ^ "Muskrat". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. October 2, 2011. Retrieved October 2, 2011.
  8. ^ "zivet". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. ^ Lemery, Nicolás (1759). Dictionnaire universel des drogues simples (in French). chez L.-Ch. d'Houry. p. 942. Zibethum [...], en français, civette, est une matière liquid [...] d'une odeur forte & désagréable. [Zibethum, in French, civette, is a liquid [...] with a strong and unpleasant odour.]
  10. ^ Bomare, Jacques-Christophe Valmont de (1791). Dictionnaire raisonné universel de l'histoire naturelle (in French). p. 205.
  11. ^ "Ondatra". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Unabridged (subscription required)
  12. ^ Burnie D and Wilson DE (Eds.) (2005). Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult, ISBN 0789477645
  13. ^ Wildlife Directory: Muskrat – Living with Wildlife – University of Illinois Extension. Retrieved on 2012-12-20.
  14. ^ Muskrats Archived 2012-02-04 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2012-12-20.
  15. ^ Voelker, W. (1986). The Natural History of Living Mammals. Medford, New Jersey: Plexus Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0-937548-08-1
  16. ^ O’Neil, T. (1949). The Muskrat in the Louisiana Coastal Marshes. New Orleans, LA: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
  17. ^ van der Valk, A. G. (1989). Northern Prairie Wetlands. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press.
  18. ^ Keddy, P. A., Gough, L., Nyman, J. A., McFalls, T., Carter, J., and Siegnist, J. (2009). Alligator hunters, pelt traders, and runaway consumption of Gulf Coast marshes: a trophic cascade perspective on coastal wetland losses. In Human Impacts on Salt Marshes: A Global Perspective. eds. B. R. Silliman, E. D. Grosholz, and M. D. Bertness, pp. 115–133. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  19. ^ "Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 2003 – Schedule 2 Prohibited new organisms". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
  20. ^ Chai J. Y., Darwin Murrell K. & Lymbery A. J. (2005). "Fish-borne parasitic zoonoses: Status and issues". International Journal for Parasitology 35(11-12): 1233-1254. doi:10.1016/j.ijpara.2005.07.013.
  21. ^ Attenborough, D. (2002). The Life of Mammals. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11324-6
  22. ^ Attenborough, David. (2002). The Life of Mammals, Episode 4. BBC Video.
  23. ^ The Life of Mammals#4. "Chisellers"
  24. ^ "The Muskrat". McMaster University. Archived from the original on 22 April 2007.
  25. ^ Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol. II Part 1a, "Sirenia and Carnivora" (Sea cows; Wolves and Bears), V.G. Heptner and N.P. Naumov (eds.), Science Publishers, Inc. USA. 1998. ISBN 1-886106-81-9
  26. ^ Smith, Murray (May 1982). "Science for the Native Orientated Classroom". Journal of American Indian Education. Arizona State University. 21 (1). Archived from the original on 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  27. ^ Musgrave, P. (2007). How the Muskrat Created the World, Accessed 11 November 2007.
  28. ^ Apicius (7 May 2012). Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome. Courier Corporation. pp. 205–. ISBN 978-0-486-15649-1.
  29. ^ Lukowski, Kristin (March 8, 2007), "Muskrat love: Friday Lent delight for some OKed as fish alternative", Catholic News Service,, archived from the original on March 26, 2013, retrieved March 31, 2013
  30. ^ Ciardi, J. (1983). On Words. NPR.
  31. ^ "RCMP Muskrat Hat". William Scully Ltd. 9 February 2005. Retrieved 9 June 2015.

External links

Acorus calamus

Acorus calamus (also called sweet flag or calamus, among many common names) is a species of flowering plant, a tall wetland monocot of the family Acoraceae, in the genus Acorus. Although used in traditional medicine over centuries to treat digestive disorders and pain, there is no clinical evidence for its safety or efficacy – and ingested calamus may be toxic – leading to its commercial ban in the United States.


The Cricetidae are a family of rodents in the large and complex superfamily Muroidea. It includes true hamsters, voles, lemmings, and New World rats and mice. At almost 608 species, it is the second-largest family of mammals, and has members throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.

Deputy Dawg

Deputy Dawg is a Terrytoons cartoon character featured on the animated television series of the same name.

John Kovalic

John Kovalic (born Robert John Kovalic, Jr. on 24 November 1962) is an American cartoonist, illustrator, and writer.

Lower Churchill Project

The Lower Churchill Project is a planned hydroelectric project in Labrador, Canada, to develop the remaining 35 per cent of the Churchill River that has not already been developed by the Churchill Falls Generating Station. The Lower Churchill's two installations at Gull Island and Muskrat Falls will have a combined capacity of over 3,074 MW and have the ability to provide 16.7 TWh of electricity per year.The Muskrat Falls Generation Facility has been fraught with controversy as the construction has gone over budget and concerns have been raised about the impact of flooding the reserve on methyl-mercury levels in the Churchill River. After several protests led by Indigenous groups in Central Labrador in 2016, an Agreement was reached by Labrador’s three Indigenous groups (Nunatsiavut Government, Innu Nation and the NunatuKavut Community Council) and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Among other things, the Agreement outlined the establishment of an independent committee to make recommendations on mitigating potential impacts of methylmercury on human health from the Lower Churchill Project at Muskrat Falls, Labrador. In 2017, controversy about the Muskrat Falls Generation Facility was sparked again as cost overruns increased and new details about sketchy project management decisions emerged. This led Premier Dwight Ball to call for a public inquiry into the project that started in September 2018.

Phase 1 of the project includes 5 submarine power cables, all due for completion in 2017.

Megalomys audreyae

Megalomys audreyae, known as the Barbudan (?) muskrat or the Barbuda giant rice-rat, is an extinct oryzomyine rodent from Barbuda in the Lesser Antilles. Described on the basis of a single mandible (lower jaw) with the first molar missing and an isolated upper incisor, both of uncertain but Quaternary age, it is one of the smaller members of the genus Megalomys. Little is known about the animal, and its provenance and distinction from "Ekbletomys hypenemus", an even larger extinct oryzomyine that also occurred on Barbuda, have been called into question. The toothrow in the lower jaw has a length of 8.7 mm at the alveoli. The third molar is relatively narrow and both the second and third molars have a wide valley between their outer cusps.

Megalomys desmarestii

Megalomys desmarestii, also known as the Martinique muskrat, Desmarest's pilorie, or the Martinique giant rice rat, is an extinct rice rat from Martinique in the Caribbean. It was among the largest species of West Indian rice rat, as big as a cat, and was one of the first Caribbean mammals to become extinct during the 20th century. It may have been aquatic, as it was known to escape into the sea when pursued by predators, but it never swam away from the island. It was common on Martinique until the end of the nineteenth century, when attempts were made to exterminate it because it was considered to be a pest in the island's coconut plantations. It was also hunted for food; however, due to a strong musky odor, cooking required people to singe off its hair, air out the body overnight and boil it in two batches of water. On 8 May 1902, the volcano Mount Pelée erupted, completely destroying the island's principal city of Saint-Pierre. It has been speculated that the rice rat became extinct then or during a later eruption in 1902, but predation by introduced mongooses is more likely to have been the primary cause of its extinction.

Muskrat Dam Airport

Muskrat Dam Airport, (IATA: MSA, ICAO: CZMD), is located 2 nautical miles (3.7 km; 2.3 mi) north of the First Nations community of Muskrat Dam Lake First Nation, Canada.

The airport features one gravel runway that is 3,508 ft × 100 ft (1,069 m × 30 m). The runway is maintained Monday to Friday year-round.

Muskrat Dam Lake First Nation

The Muskrat Dam Lake First Nation is an Oji-Cree First Nation band government in Northern Ontario. They reside on the 1,939.7 hectares (4,793.1 acres) Muskrat Dam Lake reserve, located on Muskrat Dam Lake in the Kenora District. The community of Muskrat Dam, Ontario, is located on this reserve. In June 2008, their total registered population was 387 people, of which their on-reserve population was around 195.

The reserve's primary transportation link is the Muskrat Dam Airport.

Muskrat Dam Lake is policed by the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service, an Aboriginal-based service.

Muskrat Falls

Muskrat Falls is a natural 15 metre waterfall located on the lower Churchill River about 25 kilometers west of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador.

The hydro power potential of Muskrat Falls was recognized in the early 1900s when the Grand River Pulp and Lumber Company proposed to build a dam along with a paper mill. Neither was ever constructed. In the early 1970s an engineering and geotechnical survey was carried out to determine the hydro potential of the site. The site will be developed as part of the Lower Churchill Project, despite concerns of methylmercury poisoning by researchers and local Inuit It is rumored that in 1944 the crew of a German submarine had beached it at the falls when they decided to withdraw from World War II. The rumour inspired a novel by Walter Sellars, Hard Aground published in 1992, but was thought to be unsupported. In 2010, coast guards searching for three men who died after being carried over Muskrat Falls found a 30-metre long+ object on the bottom of the Churchill River, believed by diver Brian Corbin to be the missing U-boat.

However, examination of historical records shows this to be unlikely, and the sonar images were quite grainy.

Muskrat French

The Muskrat French (also known as the Detroit River French Canadians) are an ethnic group and language found along the Detroit River and around Lake St. Clair in southeastern Michigan and southwestern Ontario. Like many Franco-Ontarians, this group is characterized by a common history as descendants of the area's earliest European habitants, voyageurs, and coureurs des bois who settled in the Pays d'en Haut, often forming relationships with local Native American women. Their name comes from their tradition of eating muskrat during Lent due to a special dispensation by the bishop.

Muskrat Lake

Muskrat Lake is located in the Whitewater Region of Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada. Said to be the home of the lake monster Mussie. Muskrat Lake drains into Muskrat River. Other than a few cottages and campgrounds, Cobden, is the only community on the lake's shore. Along its eastern shores is Sturgeon Mountain

Like many other lakes Muskrat Lake was formed about 10,000 years ago when the glaciers of the last ice age receded. At that point it was superseded by the much larger Champlain Sea. Due to glacial recession the sea was brackish, its salt levels rising and falling over the years making it somewhat salty and somewhat fresh. About 6,000 years ago the water level dropped and the Champlain Sea disappeared, leaving behind the present day lakes and rivers.

Muskrat Love

"Muskrat Love" is a soft rock song written by Willis Alan Ramsey. The song depicts a romantic liaison between two anthropomorphic muskrats named Susie and Sam. It was first recorded in 1972 by Ramsey himself for his sole album release Willis Alan Ramsey. The song was originally titled "Muskrat Candlelight" referencing the song's opening lyric. A 1973 cover version by the rock band America—retitled "Muskrat Love" for the lyrics that close the chorus—was a minor hit reaching number 67 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In 1976, a cover by pop music duo Captain & Tennille resulted in the song's highest profile, peaking at number four on the Hot 100 chart. It also reached number two on the Cash Box chart, which ranked it as the 30th biggest hit of 1976.

Muskrat Ramble

"Muskrat Ramble" is a jazz composition written by Kid Ory in 1926. It was first recorded on February 26, 1926, by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, and became the group's most frequently recorded piece. It was a prominent part of the Dixieland revival repertoire in the 1930s and 1940s, and was recorded by Bob Crosby, Roy Eldridge, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Muggsy Spanier, Chet Atkins, Lu Watters, the Andrews Sisters, Harry James, and Al Hirt, among others. It is considered a part of the jazz standard repertoire.Without Ory's consent, lyrics were written for the instrumental tune in 1950 by Ray Gilbert. After Gilbert protested that he was entitled to share credit with Ory, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awarded him one-third credit on all performances of "Muskrat Ramble", vocal and instrumental.

Muskrat v. United States

Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346 (1911), is a case that appears in virtually every constitutional law casebook published, because of its delineation of the authority of United States federal courts to hear certain kinds of cases.

Omsk hemorrhagic fever

Omsk hemorrhagic fever is a viral hemorrhagic fever caused by a Flavivirus.It is found in Siberia. It is named for an outbreak in Omsk.

Round-tailed muskrat

The round-tailed muskrat (Neofiber alleni) is a species of rodent in the family Cricetidae, sometimes called the Florida water rat. The species is monotypic in the genus Neofiber. It is found only in the southeastern United States, where its natural habitat is swamps.

Siberian shrew

The Siberian shrew (Crocidura sibirica) is a species of mammal in the family Soricidae. It is found in Russia, possibly China, and possibly Mongolia.

Extant species of subfamily Arvicolinae
(Collared lemmings)
(mole voles)
(Steppe lemmings)
incertae sedis

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